This is a quick guide to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and how you can become HIPAA compliant. We will take you through a short definition of HIPAA compliance, as well as go through the data security related fundamentals of this compliance requirement.
What is HIPAA Compliance?
So, the first thing you might be asking yourself is; what is HIPAA compliance? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a compliance requirement designed to protect sensitive patient data. In particular, companies that store, process or handle protected health information (PHI) must have numerous security measures in place to ensure HIPAA compliance; including physical, network and process security measures. Healthcare organizations, businesses and any other contractor or manufacturer with access to PHI needs to ensure HIPAA compliance.
Differences Between HIPAA Privacy and HIPAA Security Rules
Both the HIPAA Privacy Rule and HIPAA Security Rule work together to ensure that PHI is protected from data breaches. However, they are distinctly separate and function with two separate purposes. The HIPAA Privacy Rule essentially states that an individual should have the right to a degree of control over how their PHI is used by organizations. What it boils down to is that organizations can use PHI for crucial functions (such as operations, medication and payment) but for everything else the data must remain confidential.
The HIPAA Security Rule, on the other hand, applies only to electronic protected health information (ePHI). Mostly the objectives are the same; giving control to individuals over the use of ePHI and ensuring organizations act responsibility when it comes to ePHI security. There are some other differences, which can be found in another blog we wrote earlier.
Why Does HIPAA Compliance Exist?
HIPAA compliance is vital when it comes to ensuring that protected health information is protected. If an attacker or insider got hold of PHI, it wouldn’t be too difficult for them to commit full identity theft. With the wider adoption of cloud technology and electronic processes throughout healthcare organizations (such as CPOE systems, electronic health records and more), HIPAA compliance is more important than ever. Whilst these new forms of technology drastically improve business operations, they can also lead to security vulnerabilities.
HIPAA enables organizations to adopt new technologies, processes and practices that improve the security of patient data, whilst at the same time enabling the subject of that data to have more control over how it is used. That can only be a good thing surely!
What is Required for a HIPAA Compliance Audit?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), one of the governing bodies for HIPAA compliance, requires both physical and technical safeguards for organizations with access to PHI. More specifically:
- Ensure that all e-PHI remains confidential and available.
- Make sure that you are able to protect against, detect and react to data security threats (where possible).
- Be able to anticipate, detect and react to improper use or disclosure of patient data.
- Ensure that your employees are compliant when handling, storing or processing patient data.
Essentially it boils down to being able to reasonably anticipate, detect and react to data security threats, regardless of whether they come from outside or inside the organization or the data is physical or virtual.
How to Meet HIPAA Compliance Requirements
The increase in the generation of electronic patient data and the potential repercussions of non-compliance, make meeting HIPAA compliance requirements essential. Failing to adequately protect patient information can lead to crippling fines, and irreversible damages to reputation. Worse than that, because of the nature of the data itself, failures in protecting patient health data can potentially be fatal for those patients involved. In fact, it’s so important, that the U.S. government passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The sole purpose of this act being to punish organizations that are non-compliant.
So, what can you do?
In short, you need a data security strategy that ensures you are able to predict, detect and react to threats to your sensitive data. To do this, you’re going to need a solution like LepideAuditor that is specifically designed to help discover and protect patient data and that can meet HIPAA compliance audit requirements.